Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Tam Lin, Carterhaugh


"O I forbid ye, maidens a',
That wear gold on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there."

In a beautiful mossy forest in the Scottish Borders, lies a little piece of folklore history, tucked away and forgotten by many but held dear by those who know the legend of Tam Lin. Most of the forest has long been cut down but part remains, together with a mossy old well hidden among the ferns, and marked with the name of 'Tamlane's Well' though it is well buried beneath the undergrowth and hidden from those who do not seek it.

The legend goes that a young man named Tam Lin or Tamlane was out hunting with this grandfather Roxbrugh when he fell from his horse and was taken away by the Queen of the Fairies herself who dwells in the green hill. She made him a knight of her elven companie and set him the task of guarding the forest of Carterheugh, where according to local townsfolk he would only let those young maidens pass who gave him a token of treasure or else their maidenhood. Despite the warnings, young Janet ventured into the forest, with her green kirtle held above her knee and her wild blonde hair braided. As she was passing the well she came across a milkwhite steed, and she took rest and picked a wild rose growing near the well, and pulled a branch from the tree. At once, Tam Lin appeared and cried:

"Why pulls thou the rose, Janet,
And why breaks thou the wand?
Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?"

Janet is a stubborn young lady and stands her ground, telling him that Carterhaugh belongs to her, a present from her father, and that she will come and go as she pleases without asking his permission. Little is said of what happens next, and how Tam Lin charmed young Janet into giving up her maidenhood, but Janet returns to Carterhaugh and as the days pass her father discovers that she is with child. She refuses to let the blame lie with a knight of her father's company, and stubborn Janet tells her father:

"If that I gae wi child, father,
Mysel maun bear the blame,
There's neer a laird about your ha,
Shall get the bairn's name.

"If my love were an earthly knight,
As he's an elfin grey,
I wad na gie my ain true-love
for nae lord that ye hae'"

Janet returns to Carterhaugh, some say to collect herbs to cause miscarriage, and once again she finds Tam Lin's milkwhite steed stood at the well. Once again she pulls a rose, and Tam Lin appears, enquiring to know:

"Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
Amang the groves sae green,
And a' to kill the bonny babe
That we gats us between?"

She demands that Tam Lin tell her where he comes from, and he reveals his mortal past to her, telling her that fairyland is a pleasant place but at the end of every seven years the fairy folk must pay a tiend to hell, and he fears that he has been chosen. It is the night of Halloween, when the veils between the faerie lands and mortal realm are lifted, and Tam Lin tells Janet that at the midnight hour the fairy folk will ride past Miles Cross and she may rescue her true love and win him back from the Fairy Queen. She must first let pass the black horse, and then the brown, and then quickly run to the mlkwhite steed and pull the rider to the ground, as this fairy knight shall be none other than Tam Lin. He warns her that he will be turned into all manner of beast and horror, including a newt, a snake, a bear, a lion, a red hot iron, then a burning coal or gleed when at once she must throw him in to well water, and then finally he shall turn into a naked man. At once she must cover him with her green mantle and hide him out of sight. She does exactly as told, freeing Tam Lin, much to the anger of the Fairy Queen:

"Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And an angry woman was she,
"Shame betide her ill-far'd face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she's taen awa the bonniest knight
In a' my companie."

"But had I kend, Tam Lin," said she,
"What now this night I see,
I wad hae taken out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o tree."

This final verse seems to suggest the Fairy Queen wishes that she had taken out Tam Lin's grey eyes and replaced them with wood, taking away his sight of the fairies and perhaps never allowing him to have fallen in love with Janet. Another version of the tale has the Fairy Queen wishing she had taken out his heart and replacing it instead with stone.

According to Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802) it  is thought that the story of Tam Lin was first found in the 1549 book "The Complaynt of Scotland" and that perhaps it is connected to "The dance of Thom of Lyn", though it is not known for certain exactly how old this romantic ballad is. The exact lyrics of the ballad vary considerably, and many of the variations can be found in Francis Child's 'The English and Scottish Popular Ballads', where #39A is thought to perhaps be the oldest and most popular.

On a lovely not-so-sunny bank holiday weekend, myself and my partner (and his newly purchased collection of Scottish Borders ordinance survey maps) headed off for a long weekend in the Scottish Borders. My first port of call was of course Carterhaugh, the most likely location for where the tale took place, though as with most folklore stories the exact location can never be known for sure, and others have suggested that perhaps Carter Bar in the Cheviot hills may have been the location in the ballad. Carterhaugh certainly fits the descriptions though, and the magical feel of the place is undeniable. I must admit even I found it slightly eerie that the field behind Carterhaugh farm, where Carterhaugh forest once stood, contains only 3 horses... one black, one brown, and one white, exactly as in the story. Perhaps the farm owners are aware of the story and have a good sense of humour, or perhaps something magical is at work here. Below are the photographs from my visit to Carterhaugh Woods and Tam Lin's well.


According to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland website, "The trough into which this well flowed, and water pipe are still in situ, but the well, which was in the bank 2.5 m N of the trough, is now filled in." which suggests that perhaps there was once a deeper well, that a person could indeed have fitted into. If you're thinking of visit Carterhaugh, please be considerate of the farm house, and do not trespass on their land. The well can be found at the side of the road and is easily accessible though buried in undergrowth, and the woodlands behind can be accessed by walking from the nearby Bowhill Country Estate (entry fee charged) or the very limited parking at the road side.

Next, I went in search of the bridge, where rumour has it Janet met Tam Lin on Halloween night and won him from the Fairy Queen. The location in the ballad is most often given as 'Miles Cross', but this location is not marked on any present day maps. Alternative versions of the ballad give the location as the 'Mill Bridge', which may refer to Carterhaugh bridge as this seems to be the nearest to the well, and is a cross roads of sort. Though, as pointed out on the Tam-lin.org website, if Janet did indeed have to drop Tam Lin in the well once he took the form of the burning coal or gleed, then this is quite a long way to run. Here are some photos of the bridge as it stands today:


Finally on the journey of Tam Lin, I went in search of Janet's home, said in the ballad to be a nearby castle. According to Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802), "Newark Castle; a romantic ruin, which overhangs the Yarrow, and which, we may suppose, was the habitation of our heroine's father." The castle can be reached by walking from the Bowhill Estate, and is a magnificant ruin. I fear my photos do not do it justice.


The other possible location for Janet's father's castle is said to be Oakwood Castle, presently known as Aikwood. Though this is slightly further away, so perhaps less likely. The castle today is rented out as holiday accommodation, and is also home to other local legends including the Warlock of Aikwood.


I would like to give special thanks to the owner of the Tam-Lin.org website, as their website was a huge help in my research and a wonderful read. I would also like to thank Tricky Pixie for recording such a magical musical version of the Tam Lin tale, which can be heard and purchased on the Tricky Pixie website. It provided the perfect soundtrack on the long drive to Carterhaugh!

Sources & Further Information
Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Sir Walter Scott
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Francis Child

31 comments:

esmeraldamac said...

That's very interesting. Of course I've heard the names, but not the actual story! I've found a couple of 'fairy hills' up in Cumbria recently - apparently, it's the old folklore name for Elva Plain stone circle (no surprises there, ancient monuments forever being connected to faerie), and - wait for it - Elf Howe. Howe being a name for a hill considered to be a burial mound. There's record of sighting of a faerie processions there in 1513.

Fascinating stuff!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hiya esmeraldamac, good to hear from you again :) One step ahead of you on the Cumbria ones :D

http://faeryfolklorist.blogspot.com/2009/07/elva-fairy-hill.html

http://faeryfolklorist.blogspot.com/2009/07/castle-howe.html

Unfortunately I never got around to researching them further than the mentions I found of them on modern sources, thanks for reminding me, i'll have to do some more research on them at some point :) Would love to know more about the faerie processions there in 1513 if you'd like to share the story!! :)

esmeraldamac said...

Aha! I shall beetle over to read those posts in a moment!

The elven procession at Staveley (the 1513 story) is on my blog. Come on over ;)

Alan Cleaver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks, i'll head over to your blog for a look! I've added your website to my links list too, hope you don't mind, unfortunately had to shorten the title though to get it to fit into the box!!

Valkrye said...

Hello, This is a brilliant post. I have always wanted to see the area around Carterhaugh, ever since I read of the legend of Tam Lin and heard the folk song sung by Sandy Denny years ago now. Also wondered how much tangible evidence there might be about the legend . This is superb and a joy to see . Wonderful job that you've done here! Thank you!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you Valkrye! The Tam Lin story is a favourite of mine too, fairy romance stories seem to be few and far between. I haven't heard the version by Sandy Denny i'll have to try and find a copy! :)

Valkrye said...

Hello again, It might help to look for the Tam Lin song under Fairport Convention (with Sandy Denny singing of course) I think someone has posted it on YouTube. Their version may sound a bit heavy handed with the "rocked" folk sound used then but her voice is still wonderful. Hope you can find it and will like it.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Found it! Thank you, it's a lovely version, very enchanting vocals! :D

mateo45 said...

Thank you so much for your website! Like many others, have become entranced by the tale of Tam Lin and other ancient folktales, and short of making the trek all the way from California, your photos are a wonderful substitute. BTW, luv Sandy Denny, but my own fav rendition of the song is the one by Pentangle, done especially for the movie Tam Lin by Roddy McDowell. Jaqui McShee's voice, Renbourn's sitar and Terry Cox's bells & percussion all quite perfectly seem to capture the "watery", magical and ethereal feel of the tale. Thanks again!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi mateo45! :) I think Tam Lin is definitely one of my favourite folk tales, and seeing the well and Carterhaugh in person was a wonderful experience! I like the Pentangle version too, though in all honestly I never realised it came from a movie! Is it worth watching?

Tino Di Placido said...

Hey there, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog on Tam Lin which is my favourite folklore tale. After having recently watched a documentary on Fairport Convention and the making of their album 'Leige and Leif' that featured their rendition of the famous ballad in 1970, I felt compelled to organise a trip to see all the famous landmarks for myself. So I booked a hotel in Selkirk for the end of October with my partner and off we went. We had a wonderful time and wandered down to Newark castle and Tamlane's well on Halloween night just before midnight, it was magical and haunting and we caught a very interesting sight on a photo that I would love to send you. We also visited the Rhymers stone at Melrose which was awesome. Thank you for the inspiration. Tino

Tino Di Placido said...

Hello again, consider it done... is on it's way to you now ;-)

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you for sending the photos, they capture such a magical atmosphere on halloween night! It must have been very special :) Have emailed a reply.

I've deleted my other post with my email address in just to avoid any advertising spam, just incase you wondered where it went!

Tino Di Placido said...

Ok no worries and I understand, have just got your email and thanks for the cool photo, it's awesome ;-)

Jenn said...

I'm currently reading the many variants of the Ballad of Tam Lin. I found your blog and found this entry most intriguing and beautifully documented with your photos.

@ Tino, would it be possible to share your photo(s) of Tamlane's Well on Halloween at midnight? I would love to see what it looks like.s

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hiya Jenn, I'm glad my blog has helped with your research. There certainly are many fascinating variations on the story! I've emailed Tino to make sure they see your post :)

Jenn said...

Thank you very much!

william wates said...

Having visited Tamlane's Well last year, my son and I decided to walk St Cuthbert's Way from Melrose to Holy Island this summer. Parts of the Border lands certainly do feel like an enchanted landscape, particularly near water, so it's no surprise that belief in the Queen of Fairies was widespread in the old days. The tide coming in on holy Island on a fine summer's evening, when you've got the place almost to oneself, is one of the most beautiful sights in the British Isles.

The Faery Folklorist said...

I couldn't agree more William! I will never tire of visiting Holy Island :) Love watching the tide come in and that feeling of being isolated from the mainland. The viking festival is worth a visit too! Interestingly, the little island off Lindisfarne called St Cuthbert's Isle is also known as Hobthrush Island. Not sure if there's a fairy link to this, though I remember hearing a tale of St Cuthbert banishing goblins!

Cheryl Ziegler said...

I am hoping that you are still maintaining this wonderful blog. I am doing some storytelling and have used some of your information as reference. I am also interested in doing some digital storytelling and would like to get your permission to use some of your photos.

I hope someday to follow in person the "fairy trail" that you have created. Thanks!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hiya Cheryl! I haven't given up on the blog it's just a bit on hold at the moment due to work and my upcoming wedding :D Have still been visiting fairy sites though so I have plenty to write when I do start updating again! Have a holiday planned to Mull later in the year so will definitely have some stories to tell then :) Would love to hear more about your digital storytelling, sounds very interesting! :D You're welcome to use my photos, I just ask that credit is given to this blog underneath the photo and a link back to it included somewhere :D

Cheryl Ziegler said...

Oh -- many congratulations! Absolutely -- credits for photos and link to site. I'm in the process of finishing my masters in library and information science so the digital storytelling site may not happen until the summer. I will keep you updated. Tomorrow I do a traditional oral telling of Tam Lin for class...one of my favorites! Good luck with your wedding!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you! :D Good luck with your story telling, Tam Lin is definitely one of my all time favourite stories too, it's not surprising it's been passed on orally for as many years as it has, must make for a wonderful story telling :D

wendy welsh said...

I just purchased an armload of children's books from a retired teacher, and the first one I chose to read was Jane Yolen's version of Tam Lin. I had never heard of the ballad, and was surprised and delighted to find that the setting was Selkirk in the Scottish borders, my Grandfather's birthplace. I visited Scotland for the first time in May - my daughter and I did a brief tour of the borderlands, but did not hear of this lovely story. I was excited to discover your blog and look forward to reading further - and maybe another trip in the future.(from Canada)

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Wendy! Just googled the book you mentioned and wow what enchanting illustrations! Your grandfather was very lucky to be born in such a beautiful and magical place, not too far from the location for the story of Thomas the Rhymer too! :D

Patrick McLaughlin said...

Just dropping in to say a big thank you for this wonderful post and the beautiful photographs. I'm learning Tam Lin on the fiddle and love to learn about the stories behind old songs. And this has got to be one of the best stories I've come across.
When I typed Tam Lin into Google how glad I was to see your lovely post. Keep up the good work :)
Paddy from Ireland.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Paddy, I'm glad you enjoyed my blog post! Tam Lin is my favourite folklore tale of all time, what a story :) I hope you'll post a video up when you've finished learning Tam Lin on the fiddle, I'd love to hear it!! :)

Kerstyne said...

I found this whole searching for more information on Tam Lin. Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer did an album called Child Ballads and wrote a wonderful rendition of this story. I was so moved by the song (linked below), I had to find more about the history and folklore surrounding it. I loved this write up, thanks! http://youtu.be/c3yTEUnyYDA

The Faery Folklorist said...

Wow love that version of the song, beautiful! Thanks for sharing :D

Patrick McLaughlin said...

I've been listening to that Anais Mitchel and Jefferson Hamer rendition on a loop for almost a month now. For me it captures the story so well. And what haunting harmonies! Anais is on tour and will be coming to Ireland and the UK next month. Woohooo! As for the fiddle tune (often referred to as the Glasgow Reel) I have it down now but need to tidy/speed it up then will consider posting a video :)